Poria for Better Immune Defense?

Can This Medicinal Mushroom Strengthen Your Immune System?

poria
Poria (pictured right). BJI/Blue Jean Images/Getty Images

Poria (Poria cocos) is a type of mushroom long used in traditional Chinese medicine, a form of alternative medicine that originated in China. Typically sourced from the mushroom's filaments (the threadlike cells that form the body of the mushroom), this lesser-known medicinal mushroom is available in dietary supplement form. 

Poria contains several substances thought to promote health, including polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate that appears to affect immune function) and triterpenoids (a class of compounds with antioxidant effects).

Uses for Poria

In traditional Chinese medicine, poria is said to aid in treatment of the following health problems:

In addition, poria is said to sharpen memory, stimulate the immune system, and protect against cancer, according to some proponents.

Health Benefits of Poria

For thousands of years, poria has been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicines for its diuretic, sedative, and tonic effects. Although few scientific studies have looked at the health effects of poria, some preliminary research shows that it may protect against certain conditions. Here's a look at the available studies on poria and its potential benefits:

1) Immune System

Poria may help boost immune function, according to a 2011 report published in Planta Medica. For the report, researchers analyzed the available research on poria.

Along with finding significant evidence that poria can help fight inflammation, the report's authors determined that polysaccharides found in poria may help strengthen immune response.

2) Alzheimer's Disease

Preliminary research shows that poria may help fight Alzheimer's disease. In a 2009 study published in the German journal Die Pharmazie, tests on rat cells demonstrated that poria may inhibit Alzheimer's development by reducing oxidative stress.

The study's authors also found that poria may help shield the brain from the toxic effects of beta-amyloid (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease).

3) Diabetes

Triterpenes found in poria may be effective against diabetes, a 2011 study from Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows. In test on mice with diabetes, the study's authors found that treatment with poria triterpenes helped regulate the animals' blood sugar levels and treat insulin resistance

4) Cancer

Several studies on human cells indicate that poria may possess anti-tumor properties and could help fight some forms of cancer (including pancreatic cancer and breast cancer). However, it's too soon to tell whether taking poria can aid in cancer prevention.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of studies testing poria's effects in humans, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of poria.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb (poria is often used in combination with other herbs). In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Alternatives to Poria

Several other types of medicinal mushrooms have been found to offer a variety of health benefits. For example, mushrooms like ganoderma, maitake, and cordyceps may help stimulate the immune system.

For more help in enhancing immune function, try loading up on immune-boosting foods

Where To Find It

You can buy supplements containing poria online, as well as in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in natural products.

Using Poria for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend poria as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources

Cheng S, Eliaz I, Lin J, Sliva D. "Triterpenes from Poria cocos suppress growth and invasiveness of pancreatic cancer cells through the downregulation of MMP-7." Int J Oncol. 2013 Jun;42(6):1869-74.

Li TH, Hou CC, Chang CL, Yang WC. "Anti-Hyperglycemic Properties of Crude Extract and Triterpenes from Poria cocos." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011.

Park YH, Son IH, Kim B, Lyu YS, Moon HI, Kang HW. "Poria cocos water extract (PCW) protects PC12 neuronal cells from beta-amyloid-induced cell death through antioxidant and antiapoptotic functions." Pharmazie. 2009 Nov;64(11):760-4.

Ríos JL. "Chemical constituents and pharmacological properties of Poria cocos." Planta Med. 2011 May;77(7):681-91.

Zhang M, Chiu LC, Cheung PC, Ooi VE. "Growth-inhibitory effects of a beta-glucan from the mycelium of Poria cocos on human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells: cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis induction." Oncol Rep. 2006 Mar;15(3):637-43.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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